The Drums of our Lives

Since ancient times, drums, drumming, singing and dancing have been a part of Indigenous life. From before we are born, in our mother’s womb, to the day we die, we hear the drumbeat of the heart. Rhythm is all around us and in everything we do.  Over countless millennia, our cultural systems developed based on our ancestors’ accumulated knowledge. The stories handed down to us are one of the greatest gifts we Indigenous people have.

Of course those stories are influenced by the sounds heard in a particular region. The Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer introduced the term “soundscape” to refer to all of the sounds heard in a particular space, whether produced by nature or the beings including humans in that particular area. Climate definitely has an impact on the nature of those sounds as it impacts on plant growth which in turn determines what animals and birds can survive in a particular area. The biological and physical diversity of Canada has resulted in the identification of  fifteen different terrestrial regions. Usually in dealing with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, characteristics of regions are considered, but rather than using fifteen areas seven cultural groupings are normally used. These are the Algonkian-speaking Peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, the Iroquoian-speaking Nations of the Eastern Woodlands, the Plains Nations originally dependent on the bison, the Plateau groups of British Columbia’s Cordillera, the Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basin, and the Inuit/Inuvialuit of the Arctic (Files 1992: 26-27).

In each of these cultural grouping areas, sound moves through air in different ways depending on whether the landscape is relatively flat, or if there are hills and mountains. The presence of bodies of water whether as small or large rivers, ponds or lakes, provides sound in itself as well as impacting on the quality of the sound waves heard. All of these elements in turn along with the resources available out of which to make musical instruments influence the aesthetic ideals of  Indigenous musicians.

©2023 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online